Figure-Ground Relationship (Principles of Design #74)

May 29 2017 Published by Neil Gains under design

Photo by Toby Harriman (source:

Figure-ground relationship is the design principle that any element is perceived either as an object of focus (figure) or as something else (ground). This is one of the Gestalt principles of perception, where perception focuses on a central element and others become undifferentiated in the background. This is true of other senses as well as vision (e.g., when you hear your name in a crowded party your focus switches from your current conversation to listening to another). Read more »

No responses yet

Principles of Design #68 – Uniform Connectedness

Jan 06 2016 Published by Neil Gains under design

Uniform connectedness is the principle that elements that are connected by uniform visual properties, the most common being colour, are seen as more related than other elements that do not share a visual property. This is a recent addition to the Gestalt principles of psychology, based on the perception of elements with uniform visual properties as a single group or chunk of information. A single matrix composed of dots is seen as columns where common regions, lines or colours connect the dots vertically, whereas it is send as rows when the common regions, lines or colours connect them horizontally. Read more »

No responses yet

Review of Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind

Sep 29 2015 Published by Neil Gains under book review

Of all the books I have read on the sense of touch, the best short introduction is Touch: The science of hand, heart and mind by David Linden. Only published earlier this year, a paperback version will be available at the beginning of 2016. This is clear and comprehensive overview of the role of touch in human lives, it’s relationship to emotion and social relationships and its interaction with the other senses. Read more »

No responses yet

Principles of Design #64 – Visibility

Jul 05 2015 Published by Neil Gains under design

A basic principle of designing systems is that usability is greatly improved when there are easy to see feedback systems which show how to use the system along with its current status. This enables users to clearly see current status, possible future actions and the likely consequences of such actions. A very simple example is the common use of red lights to indicate when a system is receiving power. Other examples would be the illumination of certain parts of a system to indicate that they are available for use or the use of sound and touch to provide feedback when actions have been completed (for example, the clicking of a mouse, or the “whoosh” when something is placed in your computer trash can). Read more »

No responses yet

Why Brainy Thinking Needs More Than A Brain

Jul 03 2015 Published by Neil Gains under behavioural change

Hopefully by now most of us realise that the mind versus body problem is a quaint notion from the past, when we mistakenly believed that our minds floated in some ether disconnected from the real world. The idea of embodied cognition, that the brain is in fact only a central switching point for the central nervous system to send constant feedback on where we are and what we are doing.  We only learn and acquire knowledge through our body (via the senses), and we only experience the world, including emotions, feelings and experience, through this system. Read more »

No responses yet

Principles of Design #63 – von Restorff Effect

May 19 2015 Published by Neil Gains under design

The von Restorff effect describes how out memory is more likely to recall noticeably different things than those which are more common. It is a result of the attention that is given to distinctive objects in the environment or within a set of other objects (for example, a list of words or a sequence of events or a series of faces). the effect happens when there is a difference in context (i.e. the contrast between one item and the others surrounding it) or a difference in experience (i.e. an experience clashes with our memory of similar events). It is also known as the isolation effect and the novelty effect. Read more »

No responses yet

Context, context, context

Feb 23 2015 Published by Neil Gains under context

“For me context is the key – from that comes understanding of everything” – Kenneth Noland

I was lucky enough to find time for some reading over the past week, with the Chinese New Year holiday. I picked a diverse range of books to read, or what I thought were diverse, but looking back there was a common thread across all of them (and others that I have recently read). They all show in their different ways the importance of context in shaping behaviour, a theme that has repeatedly come back to me ever since my time as a student. Read more »

No responses yet

Design Methods #24 – Behavioural Mapping

Sep 05 2014 Published by Neil Gains under design

Behavioural mapping is a process for recording location-based observations of human behaviour, through the annotation (manual or digital) of maps, plans, videos and photographs. It is used to document activities, behaviours, characteristics and movements of people in time and space. There are two main approaches to behavioural mapping. Read more »

No responses yet

Physical Intelligence and Metaphorical Thinking

Jul 24 2014 Published by Neil Gains under sensory branding

Sensation: The new science of physical intelligence by Thalma Lobel connects a number of themes from the Inspector Insight and Doctor Disruption blogs. The focus of the book is on the practical implications of the theory of embodied cognition connecting this idea to ideas of metaphorical thinking and symbolism in the environment, themes explored in Brand esSense and in many previous articles (see Thinking about analogy, Metaphors in thinking, Metaphors in semiotics, Sensory metaphors and Creativity and metaphor). Sensation is the clearest explanation I have read of embodied thinking, linking the results of years of stand-alone research studies to an underlying theory of the relationship between human thinking, sensory perception and the interactions between humans and the environment.

Read more »

No responses yet

Principles of Design #57 – Symmetry

May 04 2014 Published by Neil Gains under design

Symmetry has always been associated with beauty (although for a twist on this read about Wabi-Sabi aesthetics here). It is found in most natural forms, and is generally favoured in natural selection and specifically in sexual selection (symmetric faces are perceived as more attractive than asymmetric faces). The human body shows the principle of symmetry well, with two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs, but other animals and plants show this just as well. In nature, symmetry is largely a function of the force of gravity and a kind of ‘regression to the mean’ (averaging of form).

Read more »

No responses yet

Next »